I found an intriguing Op-Ed article in the New York Times this morning, that was in the NY Times last Saturday. The article focuses on the Late Blight epidemic that is destroying tomato and potato crops in the Northeastern U.S. (Happily, we don’t have to deal with late blight here – just the usual spider mites, etc.)
The article, You Say Tomato, I Say Agricultural Disaster, was written by a chef for the Stone Barns in New York.
However, there was one paragraph that caught my attention:
According to plant pathologists, this killer round of blight began with a widespread infiltration of the disease in tomato starter plants. Large retailers like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart bought starter plants from industrial breeding operations in the South and distributed them throughout the Northeast. (Fungal spores, which can travel up to 40 miles, may also have been dispersed in transit.) Once those infected starter plants arrived at the stores, they were purchased and planted, transferring their pathogens like tiny Trojan horses into backyard and community gardens. Perhaps this is why the Northeast was hit so viciously: instead of being spread through large farms, the blight sneaked through lots of little gardens, enabling it to escape the attention of the people who track plant diseases.
The article goes on to tell about a Cornell University plant pathologist who saw diseased plants at a “large retailer,” and told the manager they needed to get rid of the plants. A week later they were still there!
The author also points out something that I knew, but hadn’t really given a lot of thought to:
There’s another lesson here for the home gardener. When you start a garden, no matter how small, you become part of an agricultural network that binds you to other farmers and gardeners. Airborne late blight spores are a perfect illustration of agriculture’s web-like connections. The tomato plant on the windowsill, the backyard garden and the industrial tomato farm are, to be a bit reductive about it, one very large farm. As we begin to grow more of our own food, we need to reacquaint ourselves with plant pathology and understand that what we grow, and how we grow it, affects everyone else.
Go read the whole article!
If the consistently warm/hot and dry weather over the past several days hasn’t been a sign of summer, the plants in the garden are letting us know that they thing spring is past and summer is here.
The radishes are the most striking example. The plants have pretty much given up in the heat, and they are rapidly shooting up flower stalks rather than putting their energy into developing roots. Time to pull the remaining radishes up, regardless of maturity, because they aren’t going to produce more. (I think they all are sized up nicely anyway.)
On a more positive note, the tomatoes continue to grow by measurable inches every day. Almost all the cherry tomatoes have some tomatoes set now. Maybe we’ll have tomatoes by the 4th of July?
The grapes are loaded with clusters of pinhead-sized green grapes. As much as I want to complain about the hot, dry weather, I find that I can’t complain too much. The reason is that the longer we go without a long rainy period, the less chance of having a severe Black Rot outbreak in the grapes.
The tomatoes are also benefiting from the lack of rain, as there is hardly any disease starting to show up on the lower leaves.
I think the beans doubled in size over the weekend, and a few of them are starting to flower! We’ll have beans soon!
The onions we planted way back in March are starting to develop some nice sized onions. The Red Candy onions are still growing well, but the Texas 1015Y are showing some yellowing and dieback of the tops. This indicates that they seem to think they are done growing for the summer! We’ll see how long they keep going.
It looks like there is at least some chance of rain over the next 2 days, so it will be interesting to see how diseases develop with the rain and warmth.
Spring is almost here, and it is time to start working in the Demo Garden! We have a busy spring, summer, and fall ahead of us. This year we will be focusing more on vegetable gardening, as we have seen increased interest over the past few months due to the economy. In the coming months, look for features on our cherry tomatoes, roma tomatoes, eggplant, beans, fruit garden, salad garden, herb garden, and the Family of 4 Garden. You will see flower gardening on a budget too – we are growing a whole bunch of different zinnias from seed! Look for these features in the coming months:
- Friday PhotoEssays
- Working – This Week in the Garden
- Insects Abound!
- Help! My Plant is Sick!
- Headed to My Plate
These features and many more will be sure to keep you motivated throughout the gardening season!